Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
The Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall
23 E. Downer Place, Aurora • (630) 906-0654, (630) 897-7221
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a national Civil War Union veterans’ organization, was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Ill.; a post existed in Aurora from the 1860s until its last member died in the 1920s.
Built in 1878 as a monument to Aurora’s Civil War Union veterans, the project was spearheaded by influential Aurora businessman Fred White. Money had been raised to erect a statue, but White argued that a building, like one in Foxboro, Mass., would be more useful; he actually circulated a stereoscopic image of the Foxboro hall. White prevailed, and the structures, the only two of their kind in the country, are nearly identical. The land for the building was donated to the city by Joseph Stolp, the developer of Aurora’s historic Stolp Island.
When completed, the hall served as a meeting place for veterans, and as Aurora’s first free public library. Built with locally quarried limestone, the original one-and-a-half story octagonal structure is Gothic Revival, with gable wings on either side. Its two wooden doors are topped with an arched, stained glass transom. The roof has intersecting gables and an octagonal cupola that used to be topped with a bronze statue of a Civil War soldier.
A two-story addition was built in 1884, and a flat-roofed, two-story stair tower in 1903. The addition is gone, but the stair tower remains. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. ❚
St. Charles History Museum
215 N. Main St., St Charles • (630) 584-6967, stcmuseum.org
This Tudor-style building was constructed in 1928 by Charles McCornack, founder of the McCornack Oil Company, as a filling station and company headquarters.
McCornack Oil became affiliated with Texaco in the late 1930s, and was acquired by the international petroleum giant in 1962; many St. Charles residents still call the building “the old Texaco Station.” Today, it houses the St. Charles History Museum, formerly the St. Charles Heritage Center. It contains exhibits of events throughout St. Charles’ history, including an incident in 1849 referred to as “the grave robbing riot.”
Two students of the Franklin Medical College in St. Charles stole the interred body of a woman from Sycamore, in order to practice performing an autopsy. When angry family and friends came from Sycamore to St. Charles to retrieve the deceased, one of the grave-robbing students, along with a doctor who taught there, were killed, and the school was closed.
Other exhibits highlight military service, from the Civil War through Vietnam; St. Charles millionaires; industry and agriculture; and tourism in the Roaring Twenties. Four times a year, the museum also hosts history round tables and a Thursday evening lecture series.
Early local history programs can be brought to classrooms. Special group and school tours are available, along with research services and a gift shop. Hours are Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ❚
Volo Auto Museum
27582 W. Volo Village Road, Volo • volocars.com
Looking for a place to park the family for the day? To paraphrase: Drivers, stop your engines! This spot has something for everyone.
First of all, there are cars – lots of ’em. Muscle cars, including GTOs, Cameros and T-birds. Antique cars, from Studebakers to Duesenbergs. Military vehicles. Hollywood cars, like Eleanor, the Shelby Mustang from Gone in 60 Seconds. Lightning McQueen. The real General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazzard.” The Blues Mobile. The Cat in the Hat vehicle – in all, nearly 300 vintage, antique, rare, Hollywood and celebrity vehicles. Not only are the cars on display, but many are for sale.
The facility accommodates parties or corporate events and tour groups; hosts car shows and cruise-ins; and holds special public events throughout the year. The Hollywood cars can be rented for events.
The auto museum is part of a 30-acre antique theme park, with historic artifacts and vehicles – including a lock of Abraham Lincoln’s hair and the actual cockpit from a World War II Messerschmitt – children’s attractions, year-round historic trolley tours, a food court and five antique and gift malls.
The history extends beyond the cars, exhibits and antiques. This family-run attraction, established in 1960, is located on an 1848 dairy farm that The Discovery Channel has deemed haunted.
The museum is open seven days a week, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Check the website for holiday hours. ❚